Saturday, December 11, 2004

Democracy: A necessary good

Conservatives who support the current policy of assisting the emergence of democracy in the Middle East are often accused of placing the human rights of foreigners ahead of America's national security interests. "Who cares if Iraq is a democracy or a dictatorship, as long as they don't support terrorism or develop WMD," or so the argument goes. But even Henry Kissinger, perhaps the original foreign policy realist, might think that this line of argument is up against the facts of history.

Wars aren't just fought and won by armies and generals, though one cannot discount the impact of well trained, well equipped soldiers and creative military strategists. In recent history, the outcome of wars have often been decisively influenced by the ability of the contestants to mobilize the population of their own nation and divide loyalties among the population of the enemy. Some examples:

The American Civil War and the "Mobilization Proclamation"

In 1860, candidate Abraham Lincoln was opposed to slavery in principle, but he ran on a platform of opposing the extension of slavery into the Western Territories while believing that the US Constitution did not give the federal government the power to regulate slavery in the states. But as a war President, Lincoln believed that the federal government could liberate slaves in the rebel territories for the purpose of denying his enemy a war resource, the resource of slave labor.

The question Lincoln had to answer was this: Would an executive order liberating the slaves in the rebel territories help or hurt the Union war effort. Initially Lincoln believed that liberating slaves would hurt the union cause. Kentucky, a slave state that remained nominally loyal to the union, was considered by Lincoln to be a state of high military importance. (Maryland, Missouri and Delaware were the other slave states that did not secede, though the Confederate Congress included representatives from Kentucky and Missouri). As the war dragged on, however, Lincoln considered the advantages of liberation:
(1) Great Britain, an anti-slavery nation at that time, was considering whether it would recognize the Confederacy as an independent nation and whether it would attempt to break the union navel blockade of southern ports. (2) Anti-slavery voters in the Union states, while not a majority, were a noisy and influential voice in Republican politics. (3) Liberation would effectively transfer slave labor resources away from the rebels, towards the union.
Thus, one could view Lincoln's 1863 proclamation as the "Mobilization" proclamation

World War I and Women

The 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified soon after the conclusion of World War I, a war in which the mobilization of female labor was an important component.

World War II and "Indian Nazis"

Many Indian soldiers fought side by side with British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers against the Italians, Germans and Japanese. But since India was a British colony, some Indians viewed Great Britain as their oppressor and sided with the Germans in the hopes that Great Britain's defeat would bring India national independence. The "Indian Nazis" lost the "battle" of World War II, but eventually won the "war" of independence.

Democratic Man: The Last Man?

One of the main arguments made by Francis Fukuyama in his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man was that while democratic political structures appear more vulnerable and unstable compared to dictatorial political systems, democracies possess clear advantages against their rivals. (Too many reviewers of Fukuyama's book seemed to be confused by it's title and believed that the author was forecasting a future with no significant or important events.) Democracy satisfies a mysterious human desire that is neither self-preserving nor reasoned, the desire for recognition. Even the most powerless human beings want their leaders to recognize them as their moral equals. Dictatorships inevitably run into questions of inheritance of power once a leader is incapacitated or dead. Democracies face significantly fewer problems with political "inheritance."

The "realists" who criticize neo-conservatives and their supposed zeal for "democratic wars of liberation" seem to miss an important pattern in American history: America's most bitter and dangerous enemies have not been the struggling democracies of Central America, East Asia or Eastern Europe. In the last ninety years, they have been dictatorships. American foreign policy should include temporary friendships of convenience with so-called pro-American dictators. But America's long-term security interests are best advanced by accelerating what Fukuyama called "The Worldwide Liberal Revolution."

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Reaction and Overreaction

An article I came across about "Islamophobia" in Europe got me to thinking about the subject.

No, not about the butchery of the English language when such invented terms are used, although I was struck by that, too. Rather, my interest is in the dissimilar reactions of Europeans and Americans to the issue of Islam in general and terrorism in particular.

The ABC article tells the experiences of one Salma Yaqoob, described as a "a 32-year-old British Muslim activist," who spoke about a "backlash" against British Muslims in the wake of the War on Terror at the November 2003 European Social Forum.

She appeared wearing the Muslim veil, or hijab. The crowd registered their distaste for this dress, and evidently this shook Ms Yaqoob.
"I was genuinely shocked how people reacted just because I happened to be wearing a hijab Yaqoob recalled in a phone interview. "It was actually a very upsetting experience. It was shocking to see people so passionate and, in my view, so ignorant of basic things, basic things like etiquette. [They] felt they had a right to behave that way in the name of what they thought was freedom and liberation."
As if wearing the hijab is a choice made entirely at random. One day you wear the hijab, one day you don't. One wonders if people who say such things realize what they are saying, or ever think about the meaning of the words they speak. Evidently not.

But aside from this, the reaction in Europe to two recent Islamic terrorist attacks seems totally out of proportion to the incidents.
In the Netherlands — a country famed for its relaxed attitude to everything from pot smoking to prostitution — at least 14 Muslim buildings and schools were attacked in the troubled days following the killing of a Dutch filmmaker by a suspected Islamist extremist. Postings in online chat rooms showed a rising anti-Muslim feeling. "Today is the day I became a racist," read one typical message.
I recall other press reports telling of similar incidents. How big of a problem is it?
"There is definitely a rise in Islamophobia across Europe," said Liz Fekete, deputy director of the London-based Institute of Race Relations. "Muslims collectively are being blamed for the attacks on the World Trade Center, and there is a general punitive climate toward Muslims. This has manifested itself in a variety of ways. On the ground, there has been a rise in racial violence on Muslim targets across Europe. And the biggest problem is that the scale of the problem has not been acknowledged," Fekete said.
This is not to say that all, or even most, Europeans are suddenly anti-Muslim racists. One is struck, however, by the level of reaction to the murders of Pim Fortuyn and Theo Van Gogh.

Immigration: Isolation vs Assimilation

I'm no expert on immigration into Europe, so I'll tread carefully.

Immigration to the United States has never been an easy affair. Even going back to the earliest days of the republic, there has been debate over how well, how much, and how fast new immigrants are assimilating into the mainstream of American culture. We've used terms such as "melting pot" and "salad bowl" to describe our various theories and ideas. Today we hear "multiculturalism" and "diversity" ad nauseum, but even with PC at it's worst there is some idea of a give-and-take among immigrants and natives.

The point is, anyone can become an "American." it's all largely a matter of citizenship, although some (like me) would argue that it encompasses values as well. Either way, there is noone on this planet that cannot become an American.

In Europe the situation is different. Immigrants from other continents are (grudgingly) welcomed for their labor. But beyond that there is little attempt made at assimilation by either side. Immigrants are both marginalized and marginalize themselves. There is no give-and-take as there is in the US.

The ABC News article cited above goes on to say that Muslim immigrants have low levels of participation in society and government

Indeed after decades of Muslim migrations — mostly from former colonies — Muslim representation in European parliaments is still low, with only two practicing Muslim members of Parliament in Britain, one in Germany and none in the French parliament.

Experts warn that the lack of political representation, coupled with a growing intolerance of Islamic culture, increases the risk of increasing extremism among Europe's young Muslim population.

Contrast this to the United States, where President Bush goes to great lengths make sure everyone knows that we are not at war with Islam, which he describes as a "religion of peace." In the days following 9/11 there was much in the press cautioning against targeting "Muslims" as a people. And although I do not have the statistics in front of me, time and time again it has been reported that anti-Muslim incidents have remained few in number.

Rip van Winkle the Netherlands, the current "clash of civilizations" furor was sparked Nov. 2, when controversial filmmaker Theo van Gogh was stabbed and shot to death in Amsterdam, and a man with dual Dutch-Moroccan citizenship was arrested. Van Gogh had received death threats after "Submission," his film about the abuse of Muslim women by Muslim men, was aired on national television.
What is strange is that The Netherlands, like much of western Europe, touts itself as a bastion of tolerance. Now, suddenly, one person is murdered and it's off to burn a mosque and head to a coffee shop to talk about a "clash of civilizations?" Did everyone over there suddenly wake up from a deep sleep?

Maybe now they'll understand our reaction to 9/11. But I doubt it.

They don't call him "McAwfull" for Nothing

If the Democrats want to remain the minority party, they can do no better than to continue to promote people like Terry McAuliffe to positions of power. In a stunningly inappropriate display of partisanship, earlier today McAuliffe used the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor to slam Republicans
While we as a nation are united in this fight, there are clearly deep divisions within the Republican Party, divisions that are impeding our fight against terrorism,

Moving forward, it is my sincere hope that the Republicans running Washington will stop playing their political games and start fighting for the American people, just as our honored veterans did 63 years ago.

McAuliffe was referring to the intelligence reform bill, which was stalled because some Republican leaders had reservations about some of it's provisions.

I've posted more appropriate thoughts on Pearl Harbor on my other blog site.